Republic of the Marshall Islands country brief

Overview

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is located in the western Pacific Ocean, half way between Hawaii and Australia, north of the equator and west of the International Date Line.  RMI is an archipelago of 29 atolls, five low coral islands and 1,151 islets that shares maritime borders with the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Nauru. RMI’s land mass totals 113 square kilometres spread over an exclusive economic zone of 1.2 million square kilometres. RMI's capital is Majuro. It has a resident population of 53,158 people with an estimated 25,000 Marshallese living in the United State of America.

Political overview

RMI is an independent country in a Compact of Free Association with the United States. RMI’s constitution was adopted in 1979, with a Nitijela (Parliament) comprising 33 members, elected every four years by universal suffrage (the last election was held in November 2015). Each of RMI’s 24 electoral constituencies – one for each inhabited island and atoll – elect one or more representatives (senators) to the Nitijela. Senators elect the President from within the Nitijela. The President is both Head of State and Head of Government. The current and eighth President of RMI is HE Hilda Heine. A Council of Iroji – comprised twelve tribal chiefs – advises cabinet on customary law and traditional practice.

Compact of Free Association with the United States

RMI’s Compact of Free Association (the Compact) with the US provides for RMI’s defence, financial assistance and access to US domestic services and its labour market, in exchange for the US having exclusive rights to establish and operate military bases in RMI. The Compact recognises RMI’s right to self–government and seeks to promote economic development and budgetary self-reliance: it came into force in 1986 and was renewed in 2003. While the basic relationship of free association continues indefinitely, the bulk of the financial provisions expire in 2023.

Under the amended Compact (and subsidiary agreements), the United States provides RMI with economic assistance including grants, trust fund contributions, settlement of claims arising from a US nuclear testing program (1946-1958), and lease payments for the establishment and operation of military bases in and around Kwajalein Atoll (until 2086). Funds paid by the US to RMI under the Compact in 2017 amounted to more than USD80 million.

Bilateral relations

Australia was the second country, after the US, to establish diplomatic relations with RMI (in 1987). Australia and RMI enjoy a close bilateral relationship based on shared regional interests. The Australian Embassy in Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia is responsible for Australian affairs in RMI.

Development assistance

Australia’s bilateral aid program in RMI focusses on securing water supply and sanitation services on Ebeye Island, and improving social and economic opportunities for women and girls.

More information on development assistance to the Marshall Islands.

Australia Awards

Australia Awards are an important component of the Australian Government's overseas aid program. Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships provide opportunities for students from RMI to study at selected education institutions in the Pacific region.

For more information see the Australia Awards website.

Volunteers

The Australian Volunteers program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes.

See the Australian Volunteers website for more information.

Direct Aid Program (DAP)

The DAP supports projects which directly contribute to the welfare and the income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups, or enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.

Visit the Australian Embassy in FSM website for further information on the DAP.

Economic overview

RMI’s economy is dominated by grants and constrained by its small population, vulnerability to external shocks, narrow range of natural resources, aspects of its geography (size, remoteness and dispersal) and the impacts of extreme weather events. External grants, taxation, fishing royalties and shipping registry fees are the key sources of government revenue.

Just under half of RMI government budgeted expenditure in 2017 was directed to education, health and public works. GDP per capita is comparable to the Federated States of Micronesia but significantly less than Palau.

The Government of RMI is the country’s major employer, followed by the commercial and retail sectors. The construction industry is expanding but there is limited domestic production – fisheries, copra, handicrafts and subsistence agriculture being the most significant sectors of the economy.

Annual exports – valued at approximately USD53.7 million – are dominated by fish, copra oil, copra cake and handicrafts.  Imports – valued at USD133 million – are dominated by food, fuel, machinery and equipment.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise trade with RMI in 2016-17 totaled $3.7 million and was dominated by Australian exports (mainly meat, prepared or preserved; pumps; taps, cocks and valves; and ships, boats and floating structures).

High level visits

December 2012: Then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon. Richard Marles, visited RMI.

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Last Updated: 10 August 2017